The coffee farm student who opened a beauty salon

The discipline of coffee farming on the Kenco programme brought Carla Oviedo on a different path to success


The traffic is busy in downtown El Progresso. 90,000 people call the city home and it’s an important place for Hondurans, who refer to it as the crossroads. It lies in an agricultural belt and straddles the main route to the capital Tegucigalpa, its second city San Pedro Sula, and the other main towns of this central American country. It’s a modern city, dotted with international fast food chains and, I’m told, a very good place to do business. The mountains that border it are protected by the Government and the rains that flow from them ensure the land surrounding the city remains fertile and rich.

It’s in mountains just like these that Carla Oviedo learned her business skills as a student on the Coffee Vs Gangs programme. Somehow she has taken those skills and forged them into a beauty salon, a strange destination for a student of coffee farming but a strong reflection of the flexibility and open attitude of the training programme. She’s amazed to have made it, having won a place on the course when her daughter was still breastfeeding and with her mother warning her she wasn’t cut out for a farming life. She knew this, but recognised the step up the course offered her. Recommended by the president of her community council she looked to the coffee course as a way out and thinks of the people she spent a year with as her second family.

She struggled at first, finding time away from her daughter to be a hard lesson, and the agriculture work a challenge for a young woman who grew up dreaming of manicures and the latest hair styles. But she persevered and used the skills she learned and drove them into her new business. So much of the course was about discipline, she says, and core business skills were invaluable. Now, like many of the graduates, she employs a second person in her business and is incredibly grateful for the new start she has in life. Like her colleagues, she was given an interest free loan to set up the business and will repay this over the next few years as her business grows.

Religion is something that is very dear to Carla and she thanks God numerous times for the new chance she has been given. The salon name translates as God’s Angels and she talks frequently of the belief she has in her religion. She grew up in El Progresso having never having known her father and relied heavily on her grandfather for guidance. He died earlier this year and she says she feels lost building her business without him, but suggests he is watching over her and her daughter at all times.

El Progresso experiences much of the same crime and hardship that Honduras has become known for – the gangs, the lack of employment. Here in the centre of the city she says she feels safer from corruption and crime than if she was in a gang neighbourhood, and has come to rely on the police to help protect businesses. She is incredibly fortunate, she says, and although her salon is young, she feels that with the help of the Kenco programme it might just succeed. She has recommended students of the second year of the programme and is excited to see what the future might hold for them. Unlike her graduate year they will all go into coffee farming rather than more diverse businesses like her and her co-students, but this is the right thing, she says. The course is so well organised and targeted, she says. People will succeed and that’s what matters.

For more on the Kenco Coffee Vs Gangs programme visit www.irishtimes.com/sponsored/kenco or www.coffeevsgangs.com